The Pugnacious Irishm(e)n

Yesterday I was bombarded with a number of comments from a true Irishman, Ian.

My nickname is just that: a nickname.  I’m American born and bred.  When it comes to ancestry, though I do have Irish blood in me, I’m actually more Scottish and German than anything else.  Interesting Pugnacious fact: I recently learned that my Scottish ancestors gave THE William Wallace a plot of land for roughin’ up the English.  Supposedly, my Scottish ancestors liked to fight….explains a lot about my mom.  Not that she likes to fight, but she’s one tough cookie (luv ya mom!).  Note to commenters: DO NOT get between her and one of her cubs!

So, should I rename the blog?  The Flying Scottsman? The Lederhosen-acious German?  Naaaaahhhh….

Ok, end digression.

Ian asked a number of good questions, and they call for a response.

First, in response to a group of links, he asked:

I’ve read a lot of Christian blogs by Americans… why are most of you right-wing politically?

Maybe it’s due to my different culture but I would have thought that Christian morality would point in a somewhat more collectivist, left-wing direction.

There are some Christians, admittedly, who identify with conservativism simply because that’s the way they’ve been raised or what they’ve been exposed to.  However, there are just as many liberals like that in both the U.S and Europe, so this means little.

Though it might seem like the overwhelming majority of Christians here identify with conservativism, the majority of black churches identify staunchly with the Democratic party.  This has a complicated history that I can’t get into right now (up until LBJ and the Civil Right Act in the 60’s, the Democratic party wasn’t exactly friendly to African Americans.  Moreover, a good bit of the Democratic platform currently doesn’t really aid the black community, IMO…different post for a different time), but there it is.  Also, an unprecedented number of Evangelicals voted for Obama in this last election, unfortunately.

Let me focus not on history, but on values, however.  Hopefully after I talk about how the platform of each party differs, it will make sense why many Christians align themselves with conservative values politically.

First, before we get to specific issues, look at the big picture politically: there is a distinction between a negative right and a positive right.  A negative right amounts to protection, namely, protection from harm or being obstructed in my pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness.  A positive right is the right to be given something.  Many currently see healthcare as a positive right, for example.  Philosopher JP Moreland puts it this way:

A negative right is a right for me to be protected from harm if I try to get something for myself. A positive right would be my right to have something provided for me. If health care is a negative right, then the state has an obligation to keep people from preventing me from getting health care and discriminating against me. If health care’s a positive right, then the state has an obligation to provide it for me.

Notice that the sense of “negative” I’m using here deals with protection, not that a “negative” right is somehow bad or inferior, and that I’m using “positive” in the sense of being given something, not that it is good or better than negative rights.

The Bible portrays the role of government as protecting negative rights, not providing positive rights.  Moreland continues:

As I read the New and Old Testaments, the government’s responsibility, is to protect negative rights, not to provide positive rights. So as a Christian, I believe in a minimal government. It’s not the government’s job to be providing the health care benefits for people. So I will be looking to see if Obama does things to minimize the role of government in culture, and to provide for as much human freedom as possible.

I think many Christians sense this, though they might not be able to articulate this political philosophy clearly.  They (and I) sense that the Bible puts the responsibility for compassion on the individual citizen, not the government.  For instance, I understand that citizens have to pay some taxes, and I’m comfortable with that.  The money has to come from somewhere.  However, there is a line.  Do I want to give to the poor?  Great, then I should…Do I really want this nation to adopt universal healthcare?  Great, then I can give my resources to such a cause, but I cannot mandate that a state official reach into my neighbor’s pocket and take his money for my pet cause (and it’s an open question whether it will actually go to the cause in the first place, rather than gov’t waste).  That is theft, not compassion.  My neighbor knows what cause to best donate his money, not a state official.  Romans 13 is a passage for government; the Sermon on the Mount is a passage for me.  It is not the government’s job to foist it upon my neighbor and make sure he is behaving lovingly (according to the state’s view of love..which is a highly suspect definition) with his hard-earned paycheck.

To put it succinctly, I believe the Bible supports small government, as opposed to large.  Mankind is horribly fallen, and though politics can bring great good and government can bring much peace, the Bible tells us not to put trust in kings of men. An increasingly large government that holds sway over more and more of our lives cuts against that conviction.  The Republican party, though it has swayed from this recently, is mostly a small(er) government party, whereas the Democratic party consistently pushes for greater and greater expansion of government influence.  Obama’s healthcare bill is a textbook example of this.  Democrats might have good intentions in this, but you know what paves the road to hell.

Also philosophically, the Democratic party is more comfortable with moral relativism.  There are thorough-going secularists and relativists in both parties, don’t get me wrong, but time and again, I’ve sensed an undercurrent of relativism and postmodernism in the left, and those two things just don’t jibe with the Bible.  Of course, when you walk into a Democratic Senator’s moral hobbyhorse, s/he will suddenly wag his/her finger at people with the best of ‘em, but that doesn’t negate that from education policy to the so-called “separation of church and state” to same-sex marriage and beyond, the left philosophically aligns itself with relativism more at a fundamental level.

More to the point, the worldview of  “secular progressives” align more with the left than the right, and their worldview is that the natural world is all there is.  Religion might help you cope, but it’s not a source of truth.  Values are cultural inventions, to be changed if we see fit.  Anything goes as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone–and that “doesn’t hurt anyone” line in the sand is pretty negotiable too.  Religion has no role in the public square, period.  Keep it in your own thoughts and emotions, and even they are subject to be taken over by the government.  You get the point.  Sure, left politicians and pundits might give lip service to God and such here and there…Obama might attend a church and say he’s a Christian, for example.  But the worldview and life commitment betrays something wholly different.

This is totally opposite the worldview of Christ…again, my point isn’t that Republicans are moral, that God is a Republican, that Republicans are always right, or any other strawman slogan.  I’m focusing on bottom-line philosophical commitments here.

As far as specific issues are concerned, I know the stereotype is to view the left as more compassionate and caring for the poor and such, but this is inaccurate.  People of both parties care about the poor and impoverished, and people of both parties don’t care as well…what separates the parties is the solution each gives to the problem.  True to their philosophical roots, Democrats tend to tackle the issue of the poor with a government program, while conservatives can be open to that solution, but are generally leery of solutions involving more government intervention.

Rather than increasing dependence of the poor upon the government (nanny state politics), the best conservatives seek to empower everyday citizens and local non-government groups to tackle the issue, and seek to increase the strength of the family.  It is a considerably less sexy and flashy solution–it doesn’t make a large immediate impact, for instance, whereas it might *appear* that a government intervention makes an impact quicker–but conservatives see things like poverty as irreducible moral issues rooted in family disfunction.  As Charles Murray’s speech beautifully articulated, a government hand in the pot can actually further harm the institution of the family.

As a public high school teacher in an urban city, I’ve seen this reality first hand, so I need little convincing.

Come to think of it, I’m not convinced that the left is concerned with “the least of these.”  How do I say that?  Abortion.  There are pro-life Democrats, but by and large, it is the party of choice for the abortion industry (pun intended).  Time and time again, Democrats have failed to protect the unborn, choosing instead to align themselves with the likes of Planned Parenthood and other abortion industry pillars over against innocent unborn babies.  Obama’s own record speaks volumes: for all his rhetoric about reducing abortions, his record clearly shows where he stands. I cannot vote for a man who refused to protect born babies who survived abortion.

Why all the fuss about abortion?  Let me give you a brief primer: if you had a child, and he walked up behind you one day and asked, “dad, can I kill this?” you’d have to have one question answered before you said yes or no: “what is it you want to kill?”  If it’s a slug–maybe.  If it is his sister–hell no.

This focuses the abortion issue for us.  Abortion kills something.  What is it?  If it is a human being, we should not be making laws allowing for that, anymore than we should be making laws allowing for the killing of newborns with Down’s Syndrome.  Scientifically, religiously, philosophically–any which way you slice it, the unborn is a human being.

The unborn differs from the born only in size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency, and none of these distinctions make a difference in the unborn’s moral worth.

Bottom-line: saying it’s ok for a woman or man to dismember, burn, and crush her/his baby to death is not “protecting the least of these.”  The Bible and common decency commands I staunchly stand against anyone who advocates for this, no matter how economically beneficial his or her other policies might be.

There are very few Republicans who stay true to the political vision I’ve  laid out.  My hope is that more and more of our representatives at every level identify with core conservative values.  It’s not going to usher in utopia, but it will certainly make things better.  Time will tell if that hope is realized or not.

To be continued….

10 responses to “The Pugnacious Irishm(e)n

  1. Up front let me say I’m a Christian and a Democrat.

    I take issue with one thing you said, “I believe the Bible supports small government”. I don’t know that the Bible makes any direct statement one way or the other on government’s size or the amount of influence or gov’t should have on our private lives.

    Romans 13 does say to respect and obey the gov’t and that the gov’t shouldn’t “cause of fear for good behavior”. That seems to be the extent of it.

    I will say that for my part I was a Democrat before I was a Christian and the more mature I get the more problems I have with some of the Democrat platform. I don’t see the Republicans really doing more than paying lip service to those same issues though.

    The parts of the platform I like are the social ones. I think that many of the rights you see as positive rights (granting something) can also be viewed as negative rights. Many of us are obstructed from pursuing life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness because things like the health care system are badly broken. The gov’t needs to step in and fix it. Does that mean a single payer system or whatever? Not necessarily, but maybe.

    Some of the conservatives I talk to seem to think that because I as a Democrat believe that the gov’t has a role in health care, welfare, etc means that I think the individual or corporations don’t have an obligation. Churches and business and individuals do have obligations to look out for their fellow man. I don’t want the gov’t to take that away, I just want it to cover where the others aren’t.

  2. Scott,

    Thanks for chiming in.
    As far as your contention about Republicans only paying lip service to the issues I bring up….well, I agree to some extent. Some Republicans have abandoned conservative principles. The spending of the last administration is an example. No beef there.

    However, perhaps you are being a bit unfair in such a broad sweeping statement? For instance, Republican pro-life politicians have, indeed, made a difference (a large one) in the battle on abortion. See this article:
    http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2008/10/125

    These are advances that, most likely, our current President will wholly undo. For those that voted for him because they thought he was the best pro-life candidate, I do not see the logic in that.

    One should not beat pro-life politicians over the head too much for not wholly overturning Roe V. Wade. Don’t let the best be the enemy of the good. Plus, blaming them for not overturning RvW (not saying you’ve done this, but it is a common retort amongst those who blame Repubs and/or pro-life politicians for “not doing enough”) misses the role pro-choicers and Dems have played in the battle.

    So…yes, many Repubs have not stayed true to core conservative principles, but I don’t see how going left is a viable solution to that.

  3. I would not say the Bible makes a statement one way or another, except that it’s instructions for government are few and far between, while it’s instructions for individuals and groups (churches) are frequent and, well, frequent.

    I believe that, by extension, this leads towards a conservative, small government, philosophy. I want the freedom to do as I ought. And the freedom to, with a church, do as we ought.

    Nowhere does the Bible say the government needs to care for the poor. It tells me to serve all I can.

    And do we have to get into the morally repugnant social programs supported by the Democrats and many Socialisti? Abortion? Euthanasia? Welfare programs that encourage absentee fatherhood? Extreme taxation?

    Is there even room left for an argument amongst true Christians in these and a plethora of other social ideas?

    I’ve run I, Pandora, my blog, in the hopes of having enough articles of enduring significance (applicable beyond this news cycle) to publish a book about why it is that I, a Christian, choose Conservatism as the correct socio-political philosophy for perhaps the very reasons the real Irishman asked you those questions.

    Keep up the good work Rich.

  4. Matthew,

    That is a helpful clarification about the Bible…wish I would have made it more clear…yes, you’ll never find a passage that explicitly states, “government is supposed to be small, dangit!” but that can be inferred from what it says on other subjects.

    Matthew, I’m subscribing to your blog..shoulda done it long ago.

    One more thing for Scott, in regards to negative vs. positive rights:
    I don’t see how healthcare can even approach being a negative right. Think about it this way: a “right” is a just claim on something. Having a “right” to something means that someone owes me that, and that I have a rightful claim to it. How could I ever argue with a straight face that I have a “right” for someone else to pay for taking care of my health problems? That is what universal healthcare would amount to–the money has to come from somewhere, and that burden falls upon the taxpayer: you. Cancer from smoking? I have a right to you paying for a doctor’s care. Obesity and heart disease from a sedentary lifestyle? You owe me payment for whatever pills a doctor prescribes me.

    Even if we don’t take my lifestyle into account, its a stretch. Healthcare is a *service* provided by human beings. As one commenter recently put it:
    “To assert the right to a service is to assert the right to force another human being to provide it to you. In other words, to force someone else to be your slave.

    There can be no such thing as the right to enslave. Such a concept invalidates the very concept of rights in the first place. You can’t assert the right to take away someone else’s free will.”

    I do not have a right to demand you take care of my health problems.

    Perhaps it is socially beneficial and good on other grounds to have univ. healthcare (then again, maybe not), but there is most definitely *no* right to it unless I pay for it first.

    No one wants to leave the truly downtrodden out in the lurch…hey, everyone needs a helping hand every now and then, and it is good for there to be something there for those that truly need it…but a “right” to free healthcare? Not in a million years.

  5. Ian Clotworthy

    There’s a lot to respond to there. I think you make a mistake on the healthcare argument in viewing it as a matter of compassion. It’s actually a matter of economics.

    Advocates of nationalised healthcare in America, as far as I have seen, point out how inefficiencies in your current system cause America to spend more money on healthcare than nearly any other western country.

    It’s about economics, not “saving the poor” or anything like that. Saving money from waste is important these days.

    Oh, and I can’t resist commenting on your response to Matthew, because it’s in front of me. National defence is a *service* provided by human beings. But would you ever say ” a “right” to military defence? Not in a million years. Privatise the army!”

  6. I guess there’s one more thing I’d say is a root of Christianity and it’s relationship to Conservatism: Self-Responsibility.

    This is more complex, as while Christians are responsible for their sins they are not responsible for Grace and Salvation.

    However, limiting ourselves to the “active” tenets of Christianity, the Commands, the Instructions, we see clearly we are responsible before God for what we do, the motives we do them with, and the result of our labors.

    The government cannot answer for me before God.

  7. Ian, indeed it is a matter of economics, in addition to compassion.

    However, what is claimed and what the evidence supports are two very different things when looking at the claims of those supporting a nationalized/socialized health system.

    Watchdog groups and concerned citizens have been showing ample evidence that the rosy pictures painted of all the happy wee men getting their prescriptions filled for free in the UK and the Mooses and Lumberjacks getting free hysterectomies in Canada aren’t the whole picture, nor even most of the picture.

    The government is not efficient, nor is it capable of local knowledge, or personal involvement in the lives of the patients. These three criteria are only the smallest portion of the requirements necessary for lowering costs.
    When the government takes over, costs will skyrocket. Money will funnel into corruption and scams because there isn’t the local accountability.

    The only way to limit costs will by shortchanging those legitimately deserving of the money: the doctors and nurses providing care and scientists developing new methods of care.

    So yes, it’s a matter of economics.

    And I’m none too excited about the possibilities there either.

  8. Ian,

    Did I claim healthcare is a matter of compassion? I don’t recall making that argument. I argued that it is not a negative right and hence not the government’s responsibility to provide, but I didn’t commend my view b.c it’s the most compassionate.

    Like Matthew, I think Obama’s bill on healthcare fails on economics. The recent CBO report should convince you of that…its gonna cost a jillion dollars and will be horribly inefficient. Maybe it works somewhat in other countries…but not here.

  9. You’re right Rich, I shouldn’t have made that a blanket statement. There are great Republicans working hard at doing what they think is best for the country, just as I hope you would agree that there are Democrats similarly engaged.

    I certainly didn’t vote for him because he was “pro-life” and I don’t know of anyone that did. I didn’t vote for him because he was “pro-choice” either. Abortion really isn’t an issue for me when it comes to the presidential election. The left isn’t a viable solution to Republican’s staying true to their core principles. I’m not even sure where that comment came from.

    “Having a “right” to something means that someone owes me that, and that I have a rightful claim to it. How could I ever argue with a straight face that I have a “right” for someone else to pay for taking care of my health problems?”

    People have a right to affordable healthcare. Right now we don’t have that. That’s not the same thing as a right to a single payer system. Gov’t supplied healthcare may be a part of that solution. But it’s not the only part.

    “Cancer from smoking? I have a right to you paying for a doctor’s care. Obesity and heart disease from a sedentary lifestyle? You owe me payment for whatever pills a doctor prescribes me.”

    Right now if someone doesn’t have insurance and runs into those problems who do you think pays for it? Lifestyle choices shouldn’t prevent us from getting the care we need. I do think we as a country should focus more on prevention than we do.

    “Perhaps it is socially beneficial and good on other grounds to have univ. healthcare (then again, maybe not), but there is most definitely *no* right to it unless I pay for it first.”

    Let me tell you a story. I have some friends who became uninsured and unemployed for a period of time. When the husband got a job his insurance wouldn’t cover his wife due to a pre-existing condition, skin cancer. The only insurance they could get to cover her was ridiculously expensive. She was healthy. The cancer was in remission, but still no health care for her. Is that right? I’d say no. Is gov’t health care for her the answer? Is reforming the system the answer? I’ll admit that I don’t know what the best solution is. What we have is simply not working though.

    Matthew – “Is there even room left for an argument amongst true Christians in these and a plethora of other social ideas?”

    Is my Chrsitianity dependent on my having the right political notions? If I look at the Bible then I should be pro-theocracy or pro-monarchy. Historically that was the stance of most Christians. A post on my blog recently asks the question “Should we even be involved in the poltical process?” I think that’s a valid question.

    I think you’re guilty of setting up a straw man here and much as Rich rightly called me down for what I said about Republicans I would call you down for your blanket statements about Democrats. I’m not pro-euthanasia and I’m not pro-abortion. I find them both to be at the very least morally questionable choices. However just because I might find something immoral doesn’t mean it should therefore be illegal. I could certainly argue my reasoning for my stance, but is this the venue? I don’t want to hijack this blog post.

  10. Scott, I would not say it was a straw man because most of those are policies officially espoused by the Democrat party, not a weak simile or metaphor being used to falsely drum up an emotional tug in the argument.

    And I would counter that abortion should indeed be illegal.

    There are already provisions in medical codes of ethics for necessary interventions. But the odds of abortions being necessary “for the health of the mother” are so remote as to be not even worth considering. I’m pretty sure Neil over at 4Simpsons did a breakdown on the chances and percentages last year if you’re looking for numbers.

    I would support making abortion illegal, but punishment would be reserved for those doctors who perform them without suitable cause. Yes it would cause those doctors who perform them great distress as they must justify the absolute necessity of the killing, but that would be a good thing.

    For the mothers seeking abortions, I would rather they be required counseling or some such similar punishment, rather than a punitive one.

    I don’t claim the Republicans are the party of all right and good. Not even most right and good. And I’m first in line to say they’re awfully frustrating to those of us wishing they’d hold more tenaciously to their own standards. And if you think the Libertarians are better served with your vote, or the … That’s not my call.

    What is my judgment is that the Democrat party officially support, and most of their leadership and public members do as well, policies that are unquestionably immoral (abortion), policies that are well intentioned but proven to be failures and destructive to people and therefore immoral (welfare, socialization), and policies that are questionable (extreme taxation and wealth redistribution).

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